The mayor of a small town in suburban New Jersey who was recorded four years ago using racial slurs and saying he would never hire a female police officer was charged on Monday with two unrelated crimes linked to his private landscaping business.
Sal Bonaccorso, a Republican who for six terms has served as mayor of Clark, N.J., gained notoriety after a police lieutenant secretly taped him using racial slurs to refer to Black people. The recordings formed the basis of a $400,000 settlement with the lieutenant, who, according to an arrangement first disclosed last year by NJ Advance Media, was permitted to remain on the payroll for two years, without working, in exchange for keeping quiet.
The criminal charges filed Monday against the mayor grew out of a state investigation into Mr. Bonaccorso’s racist and sexist comments, which were confirmed in a 43-page report released by the state attorney general’s office. But the charges were not directly linked to the recorded exchanges, which Mr. Bonaccorso has acknowledged and apologized for.
Mr. Bonaccorso was charged with official misconduct and accused of using his township offices and Clark employees to help run his private landscaping and oil tank removal business. Additionally, he is charged with forging an engineer’s signature on permit applications to remove underground storage tanks.
Neither Mr. Bonaccorso, whose term as mayor runs through December 2024, nor his lawyer returned calls for comment.
The office of the attorney general, Matthew J. Platkin, opened an investigation into Mr. Bonaccorso, 63, early last year under mounting legal and public pressure.
“Allegations of abhorrent language used to degrade crime victims, suspects and prospective employees raised the alarm of potentially criminal policing and hiring practices,” the report released Monday states.
“To many in the community,” the report added, “the release of this report has been long overdue.”
Mr. Platkin called for the termination of Clark’s police chief and a sergeant in the department, who can also be heard on the tape recordings and who remain on paid leave, but he acknowledged that he lacked the legal power to force them from their jobs.
The recordings “made clear” that township and police officials “expressed views that suggested they encouraged bias-based policing and hiring practices,” according to the report.
Still, Mr. Platkin said that his investigation showed that the confidential settlement with the lieutenant who recorded the mayor did not justify criminal charges but did warrant departmental changes, including improved data collection and record retention and enhanced employee attendance policies.
The Union County prosecutor’s office seized day-to-day control of the Clark Police Department after getting anonymous letters in 2020 outlining the allegations surrounding the confidential settlement. At the time, 37 of the department’s 39 police officers were white men, and it employed no female officers.
The county prosecutor’s office remains in control of the police department in Clark, which is 25 miles southwest of Midtown Manhattan and has a population of about 15,500.